Nottingham City Council has been named the overall winner in the Guardian’s Public Service Awards. He Council announced in January that it intended to become the UK’s first carbon-neutral city by 2028. It has already met its 2020 target to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 26% four years early; more than 40% of all journeys in Nottingham are made on public transport and solar panels have been installed on more than 4,000 council houses. Energy consumption of council buildings has been cut by 39% and it is on track to generate 20% of its energy from low-carbon sources by next year. And last year the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs concluded that the city’s air pollution had fallen so much that a Clean Air Zone was not needed.
Making the carbon neutral commitment was only possible, says Sally Longford, the Labour council’s deputy leader and portfolio holder for energy and environment, because of the work that had gone before. “We got a lot of stick over the years. People thought we were anti-car, because we introduced various schemes to try and reduce car usage and congestion.” But it has paid off. “When I was talking to the officers about how far we could push this they were confident we could go further than other councils because of all the work we’d already done.”
One policy in particular, its workplace parking levy (WPL), was a “gamechanger” according to Longford. Introduced in 2012, the WPL is aimed at employers providing 11 or more commuter parking spaces, with an annual rate of £415 per space. It is still the only such scheme in the UK and has not only tackled congestion and pollution but netted the council £61m for improving and “greening” public transport. That money has helped with the redevelopment of Nottingham station, an expansion of the tram network that runs on green electricity from the council’s own energy company, and the council’s fleet of 58 electric buses that has reduced carbon emissions by more than 1,050 tonnes. “We have a positive attitude to these things because they pay for themselves,” says Longford. “We’re putting solar panels on anything that doesn’t move, really, because it saves us money in the long run and helps support other work we’re doing.”
The energy and transport teams have won funding from central government, Europe and other sources, and the savings the energy team generates means it actually makes a profit for the council that can be used to cross-subsidise crucial departments such as children’s services.